Hot debate issues: Voter suppression, flag-burning
Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp in their first televised debate traded accusations of wrongdoing related to voting but ignited no bombshells that would have a major impact on the race for governor of Georgia.
Kemp again warded off claims that his office has held up thousands of voter registration applications by African-americans and other minorities — a theme of the Abrams campaign. That narrative has been reinforced by complaints and lawsuits filed by groups including the NAACP and the ACLU.
“This farce about voter suppression and being held up on the rolls and not being able to vote is absolutely not true,” Kemp said. To which Abrams heatedly replied, “Under Secretary Kemp, more people have lost the right to vote in the state of Georgia, they’ve been purged, they’ve been suppressed and they’ve been scared.”
Returning fire, Kemp told Abrams a video clearly showed she asked for “undocumented and documented folks to be part of your winning strategy.” He asked, “So why are you encouraging people to break the law for you in this election?” Abrams replied: “I have never in my life asked for anyone ineligible to vote to cast a ballot.”
Kemp did not bring up Abrams’ taking part in the burning of a Georgia flag in 1992 when she was a college student, an incident that hit social media the day before the debate. But Abrams brought it up, saying she was reacting to the racism behind the inclusion of the Confederate emblem on the 1956 state flag. “Twenty-six years ago as a college freshman,” Abrams said, “I, along with many other Georgians, including the governor of Georgia, were deeply disturbed by the racial divisiveness that was embedded in the state flag with that Confederate symbol.”
Abrams has made clear her opposition to Confederate memorials and has said the carving of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson should be removed: “Confederate monuments belong in museums where we can study and reflect on that terrible history, not in places of honor across our state.”
Keeping voter suppression accusations alive, a federal district court judge in Washington issued a ruling that blocked Georgia officials from rejecting absentee ballots or registration applications because of a mismatched signature. The court mandated notice and opportunity to cure the problem — which Kemp says his office already is doing. He has said people on the pending list only need to “go to the polls, show their photo ID and they can vote.”
Seeking to portray Abrams as more mainstream than the avowed progressive she is, the ACLU launched an $800,000 television ad campaign calling for reform of the criminal justice system and showing Abrams shaking hands with popular Gov. Nathan Deal, harking back to her support as a state legislator for reform legislation. Superimposed on the ad: “Abrams & Deal. Reduce Costs.” The voice of a female narrator says: “Georgia spends millions keeping low-level offenders locked up. Stacey Abrams joined Nathan Deal on bipartisan reforms to reduce costs, and Stacey Abrams will end dependence on private prisons, saving millions that could be used for treatment.”
You might say Abrams is trying to ride Deal’s coattails — even though the governor has endorsed Kemp in a new TV ad. This is politics in Georgia. Anything can and does happen.
Contact Don Mckee at email@example.com.